At UFC 294, Volkanovski stepped in on less than two weeks’ notice to challenge Islam Makhachev for the lightweight title, a rematch of their Fight of the Year contender back in February. Unfortunately for Volkanovski, things did not go nearly as well this time around as Makhachev made quick work of the featherweight champion, knocking him out with. ahead kick and punches in the first round.
Afterward, despite being stopped for the first time in a decade, Volkanovski insisted that he still wanted to turn around and defend his featherweight title in January against Ilia Topuria, saying that he needed the promise of a fight to keep from “doing my head in.” And for Cejudo, every part of that was a mistake from Volkanovski.
“I think the biggest mistake that Alexander could do is share a lot of who he is as a person to the people,” Cejudo said on his YouTube channel. “Why do I say that? ‘I’m going through anxieties. I need to stay busy guys. I go crazy if I don’t stay busy or if I don’t fight.’ If I’m a competitor and I’m seeing all that, especially seeing him get knocked out, you know what I’m gonna be doing? I’m gonna be picking at him.
“If I’m Ilia, if I know that he’s concussed, and I know that he goes crazy when he’s not fighting or he’s at home or he goes through anxiety, if I’m Ilia Topuria, you guys know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking about calling this dude out and getting him to step up still on January 20th to have a better chance of actually beating him. You see, there’s times when you’ve gotta keep things to yourself. Because when you don’t keep things to yourself, you start to expose yourself.
“If I’m Ilia Topuria, on the flip side, you know what I’m thinking? I have to pick a fight with him. I have to get him to fight me on January 20th because the simple fact that he’s concussed. He’s concussed, it’s not the same Alexander Volkanovski that was out here finishing all these opponents… He’s not the same guy.”
While nothing has been made official yet, the UFC was reportedly targeting a featherweight title fight between Volkanovski and Topuria at UFC 297 in Toronto, before Volkanovski stepped in at UFC 294. Topuria is currently the No. 5-ranked featherweight in the UFC rankings, undefeated in his career, and coming off an impressive win over former interim title challenger Josh Emmett, that put him in line to fight for the title. And with Volkanovski now 35 years old and coming off a knockout loss, Cejudo believes Topuria is exactly the sort of opponent that could take advantage of this situation.
“If I’m Alexander Volkanovski on the flip side, you know what I’m doing? I gotta humble myself,” Cejudo said. “I gotta allow my brain to heal for the next six months. I’ve been concussed. Being concussed or going through a knockout, it takes you a minute for you to really kind of start walking that straight line. So there’s two sides.
“Volk, take your damn time. I wouldn’t necessarily be in a rush. You’re gonna have to humble yourself. Yeah, I’m saying humble yourself because it shouldn’t be about ego or pride. It should be about winning. It should be about preparation. It should be about your legacy. But if you want to take the fight on Jan. 20, kudos to you, but will you win? Will you be 100 percent. You just lost the 155-pound strap you wanted to capture, and the last thing you want to do is go down and fight at 145 pounds and then lose to a guy that only has 12 or 13 fights. And it will happen.
“Why do I say that? Because the most vicious opponent you will fight is somebody with power. And when I think of somebody with power at 145 pounds, the power is unmatched at 145 pounds, his name is Ilia Topuria. Ilia Topuria’s got power. … The dude is someone you should not be reckoning with.
“There’s so much at stake for you. Obviously, you’re no longer the pound-for-pound king, but you do not want to go in there on Jan. 20 and lose the featherweight strap. I think there’s some healing that needs to happen. … Take your damn time. Scratch Jan. 20. Allow your brain to heal. Don’t be so anxious. Don’t be so prideful and start doing things because you want to be the man. That’s not the way it is. If your goal is to be the absolute best in the world, the greatest of all time, be a lot more strategic, be a lot more tactical.”